Eisenhower Dollars – A short history of a America's last Cartwheel Dollar

In 1969, with the passing of World War II hero and former President Dwight Eisenhower, and with the advent of the Apollo Moon shot, the US Congress was looking for a memorial of both events. The US mint hadn't minted any Large dollars since the failed 1964 mint run of Peace Dollars that were all melted. And over the next 5 years, silver dollars were becoming rarer. This was particularly problematic for the Las Vegas Gambling Casinos and gaming industry. By October of 1969 Congress was prepared to allow the US Mint to release a new dollar with both Eisenhower and the Apollo XI memorial being prepresented and Bills were introduced to do so. The final bill wasn't passed by Congress until the end of 1970. The mint wasn't left much time to get the Eisenhower dollars designed or produced.

But there were a lot of problems to overcome. First, in 1965 the US government converted most coinage to Copper and Nickle clad coins because the costs of silver pushed the metal past the point of being economically viable for coinage use. With the dime, and quarter converted to clad by 1965 there was little reason for the dollar size coin to be full cartwheel sized other than the needs of the gaming industry. Little experimentation was done with clad coins of this size and the results weren't always asthetic. Particularly, the circulating Eisenhower's showed clanks and marks very easier and the ability to mint these coins with the correct pressure was something the mint had to learn by doing. Additionally, many proof an mint examples were made with a 40% silver composit similar to the Kenedy half dollars.

Illustration 21971 Eisenhower Reverse Silver Uncirculated

Illustration 1Eisenhower 1971 Silver Uncirculated Obverse

Although Mint Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro had some start time in developing concepts for the new coin, the mint was still in a hurry to bring the Ikes to the public. The normal public requests and design competitions were dispensed with and Gasparro himself brought the design to fruition. the process itself, however, seemed to be a bit haphazzard, and the mint seemed to be learning on the job meaning that several subtle design changes were made to the coins as they got closer to production and through out the production run. For coin collectors, this means that today we have several varieties to collect and new ones seem to be identified as time goes on.

The familiar basic design includes a rather impressive portrait of Dwight Eisenhower on face of the coin and the reverse had a derivation of the Apollo Mission Emblem. America was all but space crazy at this time with the rousing success of the Apollo moon walks and people immediately identified the familiar NASA iconography of the Eisenhower reverse. The unusual reverse perspective of the Eagle on the moon looking out towards earth mimicked many of the new photographs and television images that had been plasted on newspapers worldwide the summer before.

Illustration 3: Apollo 11 Insignia

The coins finnaly started rolling off the presses on November 1st, 1971 and as usually many were scooped up and saved for their novelty and collectability. Aside from the circulating examples, the mint also sold the authorized silver clad designs in proof and in circulating packages. The uncirculated silvers are affectionately known as Blue Ikes for the color of the plasitc tokens and envelopes they were sold. The silver proofs were know as Brown Ikes because of the box they came in. Between the Silver and the Clads, the proofs and the circulating strikes, and added to this that in 1973 and 1974 the mint also sold clad proofs in the proof sets and the seperate silver proofs, and then starting in 1975 through 1977 there were bicentenial versions of the coin, both silver and clad, the Ike mintage is one of the most diversified, if not confusing of any coinage the United States ever created. And to make matters further complicated, by 1973 it became aparent that the public had no interest in using for comerce or savings a big nickel alloy coin, and so circulating versions weren't produced in 1973 or 1974. All non-proof versions of these years came from mint sets. By 1979 the coin was replaced by the new small sized dollar coin that we have today.

1971 Ike Mintages and Varieties

The initial minting of the Eisenhower Dollar breaks down to 3 basic groups and several varieties within these groups. The mint distributed a clad circulating version from Philedelphia and Denver and the Silver versions from San Fransico. The Philedelphia mintage was 47,799,000 coins and the Denver mintage was 68,587,424 coins. The odd number is not explained. San Fransico produced a shade less than 7 million silver uncirculated coins and about 4.26 million proofs. One of the major charactoristics of the 1971 run was that the mint had to make minor alterations of the design for smooth production. This resulted in at least one major variety out of Denver called the Friendly Eagle Variety (FEV), many of which were actually struck on proof planchets which were excess from the west coast proof production.

According to the research done by the Ike Group, it seems that the FEV variety was likely the first design intended for the standard strikes for all the clad Ikes and the silver uncirculated strikes. But after testing in Philedelphia, it was modified because of production problems. The Denver mint, however, started early, likely with spare older single chamber presses that most normally would be used for gold coinage production. To my knowledge, there was no standard gold coin production at the time so you can only imagine how anxious Denver must have been about the new cartwheel dollars and getting the coins to Las Vegas if they push these presses into action. With only the original FEV design available, they produced perhaps 500,000 1971-D FEVs and about 10% of those seem to be minted on proof planchets that were extras from the San Fransico Mint. There has also been a debate as to whether this Friendly Eagle Variety is a Variety or a pattern. The consensus is that it is a varity but you may find in the literature the coin refered to as FEP as well as FEV. Articles on the variety have been written in the coin press including July 2007 issue of NUMISMATIST.

The FEV can be difficult to spot for the beginner and you need a very decent picture and a good loupe to spot the coin. Generally, the design is completely different than the standard low relief coinage. But this is in no way obvious to the causual observer. So there is a good list of differences that one can spot to identify the variety.

  1. The Earth is round. Standard 1971 Ikes have a definite flatening in the earth on the left upper quadrant of the coin.

  2. The Gulf of Mexico is spaced out between Florida and Mexico, and has a rounder shape. In fact, Florida comes down out of North America in a more vertical angle than a standard 1971 IKE.

  3. The Caribian Islands are chained together in a line, with one Island below the chain while on a standard IKE they look like 3 islands in a triangular configuration.

  4. Florida, as mentioned above, is at a right angle to North America, pointing straight south.

  5. America is in high relief

  6. There is a missing brow line in the Eagles head giving it a more friendly look.

  7. The Eagles chest feathers are more regular and not flared.

  8. The tail feathers have a subtle difference. The top two feathers have are missing an extra line of seperation that was added to the standard design.

  9. The Crater under the claws has 2 extra flow lines between the N and the E in “ONE”.

  10. The easiest to identify difference, in my opinion, is that in the FEV the top of first “L” in DOLLAR on the reverse is craddled between two flow lines.

  11. Finally, I've never seen this, but the Ike Group documents that on high magnification there is an iconic representation of the Apollo reentry vehical near the left side of the earth that looks like 2 lines joined together like an arrow.

1971 -D Eisenhower Dollar FEV Variety
Illustration 41971-D Eisenhower FEV Reverse from the Safir Collection